Inter Miami's Victor Ulloa on reunion with Orlando City's Oscar Pareja: I want to beat him

Victor Ulloa - Inter Miami - Kicking ball

In 2014, Victor Ulloa took an important leap. Its impact was two-fold, both for his own career and as a symbol of the Homegrown movement that would soon define FC Dallas

Ulloa jumped from academy prospect to a bonafide MLS player that year, becoming FCD's first Homegrown signing to play 2,000 minutes. It also helped define Oscar Pareja's hugely successful reign at the club, as he placed unprecedented significance on developing youth while winning trophies. 

These days, neither Ulloa nor Pareja are in Dallas. Ulloa is on his second expansion team in as many years, joining Inter Miami CF for their inaugural campaign. A few hours north in Florida, Pareja is tasked with turning around Orlando City SC. The two old friends will face each other in an MLS game for the first time on Wednesday, as Miami and Orlando will open the MLS is Back Tournament (8 pm ET | ESPN, ESPN Deportes, TSN, TVA Sports). 

“Oscar is a very important person for me in my life and my career," Ulloa told in a phone interview last week. "I’ll always be thankful of that. Now it’ll be interesting to play against him on the other side and I hope to beat him. I told him that already."

Ulloa made 143 MLS appearances under Pareja over five seasons in Dallas. 

“We can talk again on the 9th," he joked.

Ulloa started both games of Inter Miami's season before the league was suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic. They delivered a few encouraging performances, but came away with two hard-fought losses against LAFC and D.C. United

It was Diego Alonso's first taste of MLS, as the head coach arrived in Miami with an impressive resume. He twice won the Concacaf Champions League during his time with Club Pachuca and CF Monterrey in Liga MX, also winning the 2016 Clausura with Pachuca. 

“I’ve had a great experience under him," Ulloa said. "From day one, he has a winning mentality. He’s won where he’s been. That was the clear message when he got here, I’ll never forget the first impression I’ve had of him: He’s a winner.”

Ulloa's is one of the team's veteran and an important bilingual figure in an eclectic locker room, often playing the role of translator for his teammates. It's not dissimilar to his role on the field, a hard-working defensive midfielder who links defense and attack. 

Alonso worked quickly this winter in instilling his style with a new group of players, who all came together for the first time in preseason. His ethos has had more time to take root during the near-four month break between games. 

“I experienced this with Cincinnati too last year, but it’s so tough to get a new group together and trying to play a certain type of style," Ulloa said. "But Diego has done a great job, showing us different ways of attacking, defending and different formations. We’ve worked on everything. The guys have embraced it, it’s good to learn and adapt.”

Inter will get more chances to show their identity under Alonso in Group A of the MLS is Back Tournament this month. As is the case for all 26 teams in Orlando, their goal is to win the whole thing.

It all starts Wednesday against OCSC.

“We want to win our first game then get out of the group stage," Ulloa said. "We’ll take it game by game and we hope to take it all the way. Why not? It’d be special. If we believe in it, we can do it.”